Just time for a quick post to record the fact that yesterday I made my annual pilgrimage to Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch the third day’s play of the First Test between England and New Zealand. On previous occasions I’ve had to make the trip from Cardiff to Paddington and back to take in a day at the Test, so had to get up at the crack of dawn, but this time I was travelling from Brighton which is a significantly shorter trip, so I only had to get up at 7 or so. Anyway, I got to the ground in time to have a bacon sandwich and a coffee before play started, with the added pleasure of listening to the jazz band as I consumed both items.
England had batted first in this game, and were on the brink of disaster at 30 for 4 at one stage, but recovered well to finish on 389 all out. Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali all made valuable runs in the middle order. Their performance was put into perspective by New Zealand, however, who had reached 303 for 2 at the end of the first day. It’s hard to say whether it was New Zealand’s strength in batting or England’s lacklustre bowling that was primarily responsible. I suspect it was a bit of both. Talk around the ground was if and when New Zealand might declare. I didn’t think I would declare on a score less than 600, even if tempted to have a go at the England batsman for 30 minutes in the evening, but that speculation turned out to be irrelevant.
Anyway on a cool and overcast morning, New Zealand resumed with Taylor and Williamson at the crease and England desperately needing to take quick wickets. The first breakthrough came after about 40 minutes, with Taylor well caught by wicketkeeper Buttler off the bowling of Stuart Broad. That served to bring in dangerman Brendan McCullum, who promptly hit his first ball for four through the covers. He continued to play his shots but never looked really convincing, eventually getting out to a wild shot off England’s debutant bowler Mark Wood, but not before he’d scored 42 runs at a brisk pace while Williamson at the other end continued to his century in much more sedate fashion.
Light drizzle had started to fall early on in the morning and shortly after McCullum was out it became much heavier. The players took an early lunch and play did not resume until 2.45pm, meaning that over an hour was lost. During the extended lunch interval I took a stroll around the ground, bought an expensive burger, and noted the large number of representatives of the Brigade of Gurkhas, who were collecting money for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Here are some of them making use of their vouchers in the Food Village:
When play resumed, England quickly took another wicket, that of Anderson, at which point New Zealand were 420 for 5. Wicketkeeper Watling (who had an injury from the first innings) came to the crease and look all at sea, frequently playing and missing and surviving two umpire reviews. He led a charmed life however and ended up 61 not out when the New Zealand innings closed at 523 all out.
One interesting fact about this innings was that “Extras” scored 67. Quite a lot of those were leg-byes, but the number of wides and byes was quite embarrassing. Wicket-keeper Buttler did take a couple of fine catches, but he wasn’t as tidy as one would expect at Test level. England also dropped three catches in the field. New Zealand only added 212 runs for their last 8 wickets, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been for England but it could have been better too. I wasn’t impressed with their bowling, either. Neither Anderson nor Broad looked particularly dangerous, although both took wickets. Wood was erratic too, straying down the legside far too often, but he did improve in his second spell and managed to take three wickets. I think Moeen was the steadiest and most impressive bowler, actually. He also took three, including that of Williamson whose excellent innings ended on 132.
I took this picture from my vantage point in the Warner Stand just a few minutes before the last New Zealand wicket fell:
You can see it was still quite gloomy and dark.
Incidentally, the Warner Stand is to be knocked down at the end of this season (in September 2015) and rebuilt much bigger and snazzier. I’ve got used to watching cricket from there during my occasional trips to Lord’s so I feel a little bit sad about its impending demise. On the other hand, it does need a bit of modernisation so perhaps it’s all for the best. The first phase of the rebuild should be ready for next season so I look forward to seeing what the new stand looks like in a year or so’s time.
England came out to bat with play extended until 7.30 to make up for the time lost for rain. Lyth faced the first ball, which was short. He played a hook shot which he mistimed. It went uppishly past the fielder at short midwicket for four, but it was a very risky shot to play at the very start of the innings given England’s situation and it made me worry about his temperament. He hit another couple of boundaries and then departed for 12, caught behind. Ballance came in, faced twelve deliveries and departed, clean bowled, without troubling the scorers. At that point England were in deep trouble at 25-2, still needing over a hundred runs to make New Zealand bat again. With the weather brightening up considerably, Bell and Cook steadied the ship a little and no more wickets were lost before the close of play. I had to leave before the close in order to get the train back to Brighton but the day ended with England on 75-2.
I think New Zealand will win this game, for the simple reason that their bowling, fielding and batting are all better than England’s. The biggest worry for England is their batting at the top of the order, which is far too fragile, but the bowling lacks penetration and the fielding is sloppy. It doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming Ashes series but more immediately it doesn’t bode well for Alastair Cook’s position as England captain. But who could replace him?
UPDATE, 7pm Sunday. Contrary to my pessimistic assessment, England played very well on Day 4. Cook batted all day, ending on 153 not out but the star of the show was Ben Stokes who scored the fastest century ever in a test at Lord’s (85 balls). With England on 429 for 6, a lead of 295, any result is possible. England need to bat until about lunch to make the game safe, and only then think about winning it.
UPDATE, 5.38pm Monday. The morning didn’t go entirely England’s way. They only reached 478 all out, a lead of 344. However, New Zealand were in deep trouble straight away, losing both openers without a run on the board. They were in even deeper trouble a bit later when they slumped to 12-3 but then staged a mini-recovery only for two quick wickets to fall taking them to 61-5. There then followed an excellent partnership of 107 between Anderson and Watling who at one point looked like wresting the initiative away from England. Then both fell in quick succession and were soon followed by Craig and Southee. As I write this, New Zealand are 200 for 9. England need one more wicket and have 15 overs left to get it, with two tailenders at the crease.
UPDATE, 6.03pm Monday. It seemed to take forever to come, but Moeen has just caught last man Boult off the bowling of Broad. New Zealand all out for 220 and England win by 124 runs, a victory I simply could not have imagined when I left Lord’s on Saturday. I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong!
This has been one of the great Test matches and I’m really happy I was there for part of it – even if it was only one day! Well played both teams for making such an excellent game of it. Long live Test cricket. There’s nothing like it!